Beno Helmer

Beno Helmer

Born: August 21, 1923

Teplice-Sanov, Czechoslovakia

Beno was the oldest of three children in a Jewish family. His mother, originally from Austria, came to Czechoslovakia after World War I. Beno's father, a Swedish Jew, arrived there in search of work and became a successful merchant. The German-speaking Helmer home was frequently full of guests. Every day some students from the local rabbinical academy were invited to join the family for a meal.

1933-39: My parents sent me to Budapest to attend high school. Later, because of my talent with languages, I got a job as an extra in movies. Each scene was shot in German and Hungarian; since I was fluent in both, I was always on the set. After my parents fled to Budapest to evade the Nazis, they tried to bribe a Hungarian official to help us. But this backfired; we were deported to Poland. I ended up in Lodz, just before war broke out.

1940-44: We were always hungry in the Lodz ghetto. People were dying all around us. In the ghetto I worked scooping out cesspools with a cooking pot. One day the Nazis took us into a home. They lined us up in a semicircle. One lady had a child. A Nazi asked, "Whose child is this?" Terrified, the mother did not admit that he was hers. He took the child by the legs and swung him against the wall, killing him. Paralyzed by fear, the mother looked on as if the child belonged to someone else.

Beno survived the Theresienstadt ghetto, and the Auschwitz and Buchenwald camps. After the war he helped track down war criminals in Europe. In 1947 Beno settled in the United States.